Candle CAFÉ remakes ambiance

| 16 Aug 2016 | 10:24

After flourishing for more than 20 years as one of the first all-vegan restaurants in Manhattan, Candle Café is getting a makeover. It closed on August 1 for renovations and for what is being described as a “drastic” menu change, with plans to re-open on Sept. 1.

Bart Potenza and Joy Pierson opened Candle Café on Third Avenue near 75th Streeet in 1994, but the idea for the renovations and menu shift comes from executive chef and now part-owner, Jorge Pineda, 36.

“Five months ago it was decided that now is the time for a fresh approach to the space. We passionately strive to remain appealing to our fourth generation of patrons, the millennials,” Pineda, the restaurant’s executive chef for 12 years, said. “It is important that we stay tuned in to their needs and assist in setting the foundation for healthy living throughout their lives. “

To “stay tuned in” to the younger generation, renovations will include two large community tables up front and full bar service upgraded from beer, wine and sake only. General manager Niamani Brown and Pineda plan to have a “new and exciting” bar, social scene and happy hour, Brown said.

And while the revamped menu is being finalized and kept under wraps, some favorites such as the buffalo cauliflower, avocado BLT and carrot cake will return. Brown estimates, though, that at least 70 percent of the menu will be brand new. Small plates will be a main addition to the changing concept.

Brown, 31, calls her rapid rise from bartender to beverage manager to general manager, within just over a year, “an incredible learning experience.” Noting that she gained experience working for the Cheesecake Factory and BR Guest, she nevertheless said that “nothing has compared to the support and guidance given as part of the Candle family.”

Pierson, who calls herself “ageless,” and Potenza, 79, are taking a step back from the basic day-to-day running of Candle Café (along with their other locations, Candle 79 and Candle Café West) in part to enjoy time with their grandchildren, six-year old twins. “It is time for a new generation to carry the light of the ‘Candle’ and attract a whole new set of diners in a new dining paradigm,” Pierson said.

Speaking of attracting a new set of diners, Pineda, Brown, and another Candle Café general manager, Kim De Jesus are also branching out with their own company, OVG [Original Vegan Group] with plans to open a fast, causal eatery “somewhere downtown” by year’s end. This concept will feature create-your-own bowls, salads and sandwiches. “We want to make ourselves more accessible to the masses throughout the city, with expectations for expansion to more locations [in the city] and across the country,” Pineda said.

Brown eagerly awaits the future of Candle Café and the Original Vegan Group. “Best of all I help create an environment wherein a healthier, greener, way of living is presented with compassion and purpose.”

Pierson is excited for the updated Candle Cafe, saying, “When your favorite place gets even better!” but has no immediate plans to renovate the other two locations.

“We are feeding a fourth generation of customers and hopefully a whole new generation to come! We put our heart and soul into every meal.” she concludes.